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|A cookie-cutter chain restaurant in Seattle, Wash.|
We had dinner out for about $18 each on Saturday night at Pine Hill, a Korean restaurant in Paramus, and took home leftovers.
A few days earlier, I had lunch with two friends at a chain restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory in Hackensack, and forked over $20 in splitting the bill three ways. (Both figures include tax and tip).
For dinner at Pine Hill, I had a large bowl of spicy soup filled with codfish and vegetables ($14.95), served with steamed rice, and shared 11 complimentary side dishes that are part of every Korean meal.
My wife had a stone bowl of soft-tofu stew with shrimp ($10.95) and my son had a large bowl of spicy soup with short ribs ($13.95). They had juice ($2 each) and I drank water.
My son said he "couldn't move" after finishing his soup, rice and side dishes.
Our healthy side dishes, or panchan, included cabbage and radish kimchis, bean sprouts, tofu, sweet yam, an egg souffle, shredded radish, acorn gelatin, an iceberg lettuce salad and a small, whole grilled mackerel.
When I asked, the waitress brought us more of the sweet-and-spicy cabbage kimchi and two more pieces of tofu.
Pine Hill is off the beaten path for Korean food -- far from the dozens of places in Palisades Park. But it serves more side dishes with dinner than the others.
What did $20 get me at The Cheesecake Factory? I ordered a large salad with blue cheese and walnuts, but asked the waiter to hold the chicken ($13.95). I drank seltzer and a large cup of black coffee.
At another chain restaurant, Joe's Crab Shack in Clifton, we ordered a $29.99 pot of three kinds of crab and the kitchen overcooked them. Our total bill was nearly $100.
The crab meat I was able to extract from the soft shells was tasteless.
Both The Cheesecake Factory and Joe's were crowded and noisy. Joe's doesn't even take reservations.
Pine Hill Restaurant, 123 Paramus Road,